These Cards Do WORK! - Glissa, the Traitor

(Glissa, the Traitor | Art by Chris Rahn)

The Compleat Indiana Jones

Hi there! I’m Jeremy Rowe, AKA J Ro, the Unsummoned Skull, a former Judge, Tournament Organizer, and Pro Tour competitor. I’m also a current teacher, college professor, streamer, community leader, and content creator. In this series, we examine the big EDH questions: What makes a card good? What’s the difference between popularity and synergy? What even is that synergy thing anyways? My intention is to differentiate between high- and low-synergy cards, describe in what ways the cards work with the commander, and explain why high synergy is such a good thing. For a deck to be powerful and consistent, each card needs to do a job, and these cards do WORK!

For our eighth article, we're taking a look at a one-card engine, a beast in combat (but not in creature type), and one of the few zombies and elves that wouldn’t make a good tribal commander…at least not for those tribes! No, Glissa is a traitor to her own types, but she gravitates to shiny things, retrieving artifacts from our graveyard whenever our opponents’ creatures die, and for each creature dying. She’s one of the most dangerous gals around, Glissa, the Traitor!

Glissa, the Traitor has an excellent suite of abilities that make attacking difficult for opponents and enables shenanigans by acting as a relevant blocker and card advantage engine. First Strike and Deathtouch are an incredible tandem of abilities, as Glissa deals her damage first, and that damage kills the opponents’ blocking creatures upon contact. When those creatures die, they trigger the artifact retrieval ability, allowing the graveyard to operate as a secondary hand.

Glissa is representative of why I wanted to make this series, as she can create synergy engines using cards that otherwise get overlooked. Executioner’s Capsule is rarely preferred over Doom Blade and its variants, but Doom Blade would sit in a graveyard while the capsule is an artifact that kills a creature, but is sacrificed as part of the cost of activating the ability, so it’s in the graveyard when when the creature dies, and Glissa can retrieve it!

It is my belief that all commander decks are midrange decks, needing the same jobs done in order to switch cleanly between offense and defense, as well as to combat a variety of threats from around the table. Glissa, the Traitor is a special commander, so let’s find the right tools for these jobs!


Most decks need ramp to play high-impact spells at a time when they are still relevant. Glissa has a black and two green pips in her mana cost, so she’s a bit tough to cast on time. Furthermore, she needs some amount of artifacts either on the battlefield or in the graveyard before she comes out, so the first few turns need to be efficient and provide options, which are what ramp and mana fixing do.

For each job, I normally like to highlight a low-synergy-score card, a high-synergy-score card, and an underrated card for this commander, but Glissa's so unique that I might spend more time on some high-synergy highlights because of how cool they are with her abilities.

Mind Stone, is one of my favorite mana rocks, especially in slower combo decks. Given Glissa's mana cost, this doesn't immediately look like the best mana rock, but there's a reason 61% of Glissa decks play it: it can sacrifice to draw a card! Getting it back multiple times with Glissa provides not just mana, but a steady flow of card advantage. Since so many other green decks tend to use ramp spells instead of these types of ramp artifacts, this has given Mind Stone a hefty synergy score of 56%.

Commander’s Sphere is one of the most popular and frequently printed cards, emblematic of the format itself. Unlike the Stone, the Sphere can make mana of any color, and it doesn’t require mana to sacrifice. We can sacrifice it for free, in response to one of Glissa's death triggers, and still get it right back! On Glissa, the Traitor's EDHREC page, you'll see that Commander’s Sphere has a decent synergy score (40%) but that doesn't mean it's a worse card here than the Mind Stone. Synergy scores on EDHREC are a form of uniqueness calculation (48% of Glissa, the Traitor decks play Commander’s Sphere, and 8% of all other Golgari decks also play Commander’s Sphere, so the difference = 40%). One of the reasons why we play a commander like Glissa is because of the unique cards she’s able to make better and, as a result, the low monetary cost of a powerful deck like this.

Horizon Spellbomb might not seem like a very efficient mana rock, as it costs three mana to find a basic and put it in your hand (four if you want to draw a card), but it’s much better when part of an engine. Four mana to put a basic in your hand and draw a card is mediocre-to-decent, but when every four mana results in a land and a card, it starts to snowball into a bigger and bigger advantage. With the defensive abilities of Glissa acting as a rattlesnake, warding off opponents from attacking us, these loops have the time to develop.

Spot Removal

In addition to being able to cast spells on time (or early enough in the game to still be relevant), decks need removal to be able to deal with the threats opposing decks present, as well as to be able to protect their own threats from opposing removal. In Glissa’s case, spot removal needs to be cheap and flexible, as well as leave an artifact in the graveyard.

Executioner’s Capsule has a synergy score of 75% for our traitorous zombified Elf; it's used much more with her than with other Golgari commanders. Being able to machine-gun non-black creatures for 1BB each is a big game, making this spot removal spell almost like a mass removal effect! Only 3% of Golgari decks run this, but it’s in 75% more Glissa lists, and is an MVP. Commander is a beautiful format.

Sylvok Replica is a functionally similar card to the Capsule, but has a much higher mana value, and doesn’t inherently loop itself with Glissa. It's got a 62% synergy score on Glissa’s EDHREC page, because other Golgari decks play it at a much lower rate (3% of all Golgari decks). Glissa loves it here because it's a Naturalize effect she can retrieve over and over again.

Duplicant is an underrated option, played in only 25% of Glissa decks and only 2% of other Golgari decks. A 6-mana 2/4 might not seem like a tremendous creature, but it is rarely going to maintain those stats. Instead, the focus is on its Imprint ability, which exiles a nontoken creature. Exiling allows it to answer threats that might get around the Capsule or the Replica. Not only does it answer threats, it becomes one! Duplicant takes on the power, toughness, and creature types of the exiled card, making it as threatening as the thing you’re answering. As an artifact, it is recoverable by Glissa, adding another layer of synergy!

Mass Removal

Most decks need plans for what to do if things get out of hand, and Glissa, the Traitor is no different. Glissa wants creatures to die, but decks have been getting better and better at getting wide, making it tough for Glissa to control the board, and making the defensive abilities on our commander less and less useful. The smaller the board, the better Glissa is, so we need ways to control the board and use the grave to our advantage. The question is, can we balance controlling the board and exploiting our synergies?

Nevinyrral’s Disk is a powerful card, which has been heavily played throughout Magic’s history. It destroys artifacts, creatures, and enchantments, which includes our artifacts and our commander, which is less than optimal. It is able to be retrieved with Glissa, though, so we can wipe the board with this multiple times and keep things clear, as long as we can keep Glissa in play. Giving her indestructible with Darksteel Plate would create a kind of nasty soft-lock, for those interested in such things.

Steel Hellkite, meanwhile, has a synergy score of 31%, as it is an excellent way to pressure opponents. When it connects, it blasts all nonland permanents of a specific mana value, including mowing down tokens with impunity. It may be a lightning rod for removal, but unless it is exiled, we can keep bringing it back with Glissa. Her pet dragon’s a gigantic beatstick!

Tormod’s Crypt is even better here than it is for a mill commander, which is saying something! It’s worth noting that the Crypt has a mana value of zero and has a sacrifice trigger, not an exile trigger. Most modern designs like this would exile, like Relic of Progenitus, but the Crypt, as a pre-modern design, sacrifices, so Glissa can find it again and again, exiling just the graves you want to exile, and preventing opponents from using dead cards for their own gain.

Card Draw

Every deck needs card draw, selection, tutoring, or advantage, to help find the pieces it needs to transition between the phases of the game. There are always going to be spells that are better early than late, or better from ahead, or better from behind. Glissa, the Traitor is a commander predicated on repeated advantages and engines, piling up the small advantages instead of making big, brutal swings. Since the deck is looking to leverage these advantages, it needs a way to keep the deck moving forward instead of just playing around with card zones. 

Brainstone is a color-agnostic version of the iconic blue draw spell. Brainstorm’s been around almost as long as the game itself, and is one of the more skill-testing cards of all time (next to my beloved Unsummon, of course). Luckily, Glissa makes this card basically all upside, recycling it over and over again each time an opponent's creature dies, gaining tons of extra advantage.

Mishra's Bauble shows up with a 31% synergy score on Glissa’s EDHREC page. It's only played in 1% of non-Glissa Golgari decks, making it fairly unique to her, and with good reason. The timing of the draw is awkward, as it doesn’t occur until the next turn’s upkeep. It also only draws a single card per activation, so, without Glissa to recover it, the Bauble is mediocre to bad. With Glissa, though, it’s an incredible engine, made even better with Shimmer Myr!

Costly Plunder is one of the few non-artifacts we really, really want, because it is an instant-speed way to sacrifice artifacts, and it draws cards. While a lot of artifacts have internal sacrifice abilities, this allows us to respond to attempts to exile our key pieces, such as our Shimmer Myr. The graveyard is a safe space for our deck, so this card is all upside, effectively a 3-for-1.

Win Conditions

The last major job that most decks need is a way to actually close out the game. Ramping allows you to play spells out, but can be dead draws late game. Removing threats works for a while, but with three opponents, someone’s going to stick something, and games can either stall out or develop into arms races. Card draw helps, but what are you looking to actually draw? The answer is... win conditions! Glissa is a card advantage engine, but does not win the game easily. We’re going to need some clever ways to finish players off.

Marionette Master is a picture-perfect payoff for all of the artifacts going in and out of the graveyard! 43% of Glissa decks love playing this puppeteer, and ours is no different. Each time an artifact we control goes to the grave, an opponent loses life equal to the Master’s power, which can be either 1 or 4, depending on the Fabricate choice. Each iteration of the loops that comprise the skeleton of our deck gradually lowers life totals, working well with our gameplan!

Wurmcoil Engine is a traditional artifact finisher, providing another huge roadblock for attacking creatures, as well as being a solid attacker itself. With lifelink, it creates 12-point life swings in each combat, and it's possible to use that death trigger to create lots of extra tokens, recurring the Wurm over and over to keep making more of them, making this a phenomenal offensive beater!

Revel in Riches, is a dangerous card to leave around, especially when a deck like ours can kill lots of opponents’ creatures. It generates a Treasure per dead creature, which is a tremendous boon for helping us cast spells and keep our engines going. Best of all, at the beginning of our upkeep, if we have 10 Treasure tokens, we win the game! 

Pretty, Pretty, Shiny, Shiny

Let's round it out with a sample Glissa decklist! We're focusing on doing the jobs a deck needs to function, in a way that capitalizes on the commander’s unique characteristics. I’ve always had a fascination with artifacts, so let’s go find some shiny toys!!

Hopefully, this guide helps you to evaluate cards and use the data at hand! Results may vary, as playgroups, deck choices, and the luck of the draw can impact how games go.

Which cards overperformed for you? Which cards were overrated? Join me next time as we explore which cards are dead weight, and which cards do WORK!

Teacher, judge, DM, & Twitch Affiliate. Lover of all things Unsummon. Streams EDH, Oathbreaker, D & D, & Pokemon. Even made it to a Pro Tour!

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